December 10, 2012 9:40:51 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Benardrick McKinney wasn't even sure if he was going to be a consistent member of the starting lineup at middle linebacker.
As a redshirt freshman, McKinney was just trying to figure out a way to be a contributing member of the 2012 Mississippi State University football team.
McKinney, a 235-pound linebacker from Tunica, was named to the FoxSportsNext Freshman All-America First Team Friday, one day after earning All-SEC Freshman honors in a vote by the league coaches.
McKinney was the first player from Rosa Fort High School to sign with an Southeastern Conference program since 2001, following in the footsteps of his 2010 high school coach and former Bulldog receiver McKinley Scott.
"It's a blessing to be an All-American and something that when you're a kid you grow up dreaming about but not really thinking it's possible," McKinney said Friday. "All i wanted as a kid was to play for a big college and then my goals changed the minute I got here."
McKinney, a three-star recruit from a unknown high school in Mississippi, says he saw his progression on the field dating back to one year ago today during bowl preparation being "a really fast deal" and says it scared him initially.
"It can be hard to not stay humble sometimes and think about the future instead of worrying about what is the present in terms of football and school and what I'm supposed to be doing," McKinney said.
"I was making a difference but I have the support here to make sure I'm in the film room and going to study hall to make sure I continue to have this success."
McKinney's hard work more than paid off on the stat sheet in 2012. He finished fourth in the nation among freshman and seventh overall in the SEC with 97 tackles, while also tallying 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack, four pass breakups and a fumble recovery.
His quick development at the middle linebacker position gave MSU (8-4) a legitimate starting linebacker group with senior Cam Lawrence and junior Deontae Skinner.
Not bad for a player that all the coaches were saying would be a game-time decision as to who would start the season opening at middle linebacker between McKinney and Ferlando Bohanna.
"Wow is all I can say about him right now," MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said in October. "He has given us everything we thought he would in terms of being instinctive out there and what he's able to do in the run game."
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound linebacker's most memorable performance came in the SEC road win at Kentucky Oct. 6, when he posted 12 tackles (10 solo), one tackle for loss and two pass breakups. For his efforts,
McKinney was named Co-SEC freshman of the week, becoming the first MSU player since LaDarius Perkins in November 2010 to pick up the weekly accolade.
"We see him as a three down guy that never comes off the field," Wilson said. "The one thing you feel really good about Benardrick is you don't have to draw him a road map. The more he plays, the better he gets."
What fans will now see this week in practice as MSU opens up its bowl preparation to the public is McKinney trying to figure out how to do something completely unique since arriving on the MSU campus -- lead others.
McKinney will need to provide on and off-the-field leadership to a pair of freshman linebackers in Richie Brown and Beniquez Brown that will be competing for the starting spot left by Lawrence after he plays his final game on New Year's Day in the 2013 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville.
The irony and responsibility of McKinney being exactly in those two young players' position mentally one year ago has not been lost on the freshman All-American selection.
"I'm going to be on them hard like Coach Collins and Cam was on me," McKinney said. "I'm going to be their friend and big brother off the field but on the field, I'll be on them. They're going to be tired and exhausted after practices this month."
It will now be McKinney that is taking young players on campus tours and during the season bringing them in the film room to show quarterback tendencies or offensive formation consistencies before they hit the field on a Saturday.
Of all the MSU linebackers in the last four years to make it to the National Football League and win state-wide or national honors (Jamar Chaney, Chris White, K.J. Wright and Lawrence), McKinney is the first MSU linebacker since Jamon Hughes in 2006 to be named by the SEC head coaches to the All-SEC Freshman team.
It is that same faith of his coaches in Starkville that has led to a more than encouraging start to his college football career.
"The honor from the SEC and the rest of the country is just another testament to the amount he has worked and put into being a better football player here at Mississippi State," MSU linebackers coach Geoff Collins said. "First to practice, first to the meeting rooms and just a pleasure to coach."